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After 5 years, Jupiter probe nearly there

dpadpa 4/07/2016

The Juno spacecraft is set to fire its engines Tuesday and slow to an orbit around Jupiter, in a mission to learn how the solar system was created.

A US spacecraft is due to arrive at the planet Jupiter after a five-year journey on a mission to provide clues about the formation of the solar system.

The Juno spacecraft is set to fire its engines at 1.20pm Tuesday AEDT for a 35-minute manoeuvre to place it into orbit around the solar system's largest planet as researchers watch from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Researchers will await the results of the tricky move with a three-second long radio signal announcing if the craft has been successful.

Juno is to orbit the planet 37 times over the course of the next 20 months, coming the closest of any spacecraft ever to the planet, grazing Jupiter's highest clouds just 5000 kilometres from the surface.

Jupiter is believed to be the first planet to have formed in the solar system, and probably captured many elements and gases left over from the formation of the sun.

Researchers hope the mission will provide a window back in time to provide clues about the formation of the solar system.

The 1.1-billion-dollar mission will use instruments aboard the craft to look below the planet's swirling cloud cover.

The primary focus will be on measuring water in Jupiter's atmosphere to test theories about planet formation.

The most recent mission to the planet found hardly any water in the atmosphere and scientists wonder why.

Juno will map Jupiter's magnetic and gravitational fields to gather data about the planet's core.

The probe will also take measurements of the planet's composition, temperature and clouds and examine how its magnetic force affects the atmosphere.

The most recent spacecraft sent to Jupiter launched more than two decades ago. That probe, called Galileo, was the only craft to actually orbit the planet and Juno seeks to answer some of the questions left from that mission.

The first visit to Jupiter was made by the Pioneer 10 in a flyby in 1973.

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